Does downtown Braselton need more culture? This is one of the many questions that will be asked by a new advisory committee that is taking shape in Braselton to help steer elected leaders to make the best decisions for the downtown and its businesses. The committee will use market research to encourage new development, finding and help existing businesses.
On Friday, Clay Eubanks and Ralph Brooks met to discuss the group’s purpose and aim along with Amy Pinnell, Braselton’s downtown director, who will serve as secretary/staff for the committee. Eubanks will be the chairperson for the committee. Stephanie Braselton Williams is also a listed member who was not present at the meeting. The group was formed from the Braselton Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
Braselton’s DDA, which was enacted in 2009, is made up of seven members of business owners/operators and residents. The current DDA board members in Braselton are Peggy Kriegel, a resident, (chair); Eubanks, of Northeast Georgia Bank, (vice-chair); Sally Beggs, of The Garden; Robbie Bettis, of Braselton Antique Mall; Cheri Huff, of Elements, a Day Spa; Cindy Phillips, of State Farm; and Cindy Green, a resident.
Pinnell began Friday’s meeting with an overview of Braselton’s DDA and followed with a presentation that covered the history of downtowns.
Downtowns were the center of commerce that started around rivers, railroads or a resource, where merchants built buildings and lived in upper floors and operated business in ground levels, according to Pinnell’s presentation. Major changes took place with the emergence of interstate highway systems and other “modern conveniences” and when governments began separating residential and commercial areas, she added.
“I think this is really funny because we’ve come full circle to that,” said Pinnell. “There was a time when that’s the way downtowns were and then we had the separation and now people want to go back and live close to town. They don’t want to really own cars or deal with parking. They want to be able to walk and have all of the amenities that they once had.”
In the 1970’s, these buildings were dilapidated, abandoned and neglected, said Pinnell.
“Property owners didn’t have any money to do the upkeep or to retrofit them with air conditioning,” she said. “People just had kind of given up.”
The National Trust for Historic Places eventually began receiving calls from the public about these buildings, said Pinnell.
“Since the 1940s, (The National Trust for Historic Places) had been asked to preserve historic buildings and they recognized right away, they were being asked to restore blocks of buildings of and that really wasn’t feasible. If there wasn’t a plan for the building, saving it wasn’t really going to help it,” said Pinnell.
Thus, the Main Street program — a national non-profit called Main Street Center, Inc., a subsidiary to the National Trust for Historic Preservation — was launched in 1980 and it has become the blue print to revitalize more than 2,000 communities nationwide, according to www.mainstreet.org.
In November, Braselton learned it was selected as one of 19 cities in Georgia for a Main Street start-up program with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The 2014-15 program provides technical assistance to communities looking to improve their downtowns.
“Even prior to when the DDA formed, the town leadership was very interested in in getting Main Street designation,” said Pinnell. “They are a very powerful network. Being a Main Street city is going to give us a lot of resources and networking opportunities.”
Pinnell said Braselton’s DDA will serve as the governing board in the initial phases of the Main Street program in Braselton.
“Economic development isn’t about only bringing new business into town, it’s also about retaining the businesses that we have,” said Pinnell. “We want to encourage businesses to make an investment into downtown and if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to find ways to encourage them to stay.”
Current revitalization projects happening in downtown Braselton are the Braselton Brothers Department Store, the Street Scape project, the Town Green and any new development.
“These are things that this community needs to be aware of and jump off of,” said Pinnell.
FUTURE PLANS FOR COMMITTEE
Eubanks, Pinnell and Brooks talked discussed the fact that Braselton has never had an economic development committee.
“It’s going to take some time and some creative thinking about ways to develop the downtown and encourage new businesses and find a place for them. It’s good to know and we’ll work on the mission statement. And I’ll ask around to other development committees in other cities and try to get an idea of what they do and what their rules are and how they operate,” said Eubanks.
Pinnell suggested that the group attend similar committee meetings in other cities.
Upcoming meetings will include a discussion on how to use market research and a presentation on the town’s master plan from Braselton’s planning director Kevin Keller, according to Pinnell.
The next meeting of the economic development committee is set for Friday, Feb. 7, at 9 a.m. in the conference room of the planning and development building in Braselton.
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